Free Will In History

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Non-Christians often confuse History with God. For them History is the word for God. An appeal to what will happen in History is an appeal to what they see as the will of God. If they are on the side of History, they argue therefore they are on the side of God. They say what is vindicated by surviving in History is  right. Christians should beware of such unclear thinking. This is not necessarily so.

God should not be labeled History and seen in terms of whatever survives into the future as History is necessarily good, right or God’s will. Survival is not the test of God’s will although it may be a test of  God’s approval in some but certainly not all things. History is merely a today that becomes tomorrow being recorded as best it can be for tomorrow’s benefit. What the state of today shows to the religious  person is an overview of a confused mix of world and individual actions that include God’s respect for the  free will of people who often today as in the past use that free will wrongly.

An example of this use of free will wrongly was in the Bible when the people of Israel wanted “a King.”  God through prophets told the people of Israel it was the wrong thing to do but they wanted a king anyway.  This is recorded in I Samuel 10:19. God courteously respects the wishes of the tribes of Israel for a king  and finds them as good a one as He could find, Saul. Saul anointed by Samuel became King.

Now we are in the midst of teaching what is called “The Merciful Providence of God.” This means that God who loves mankind as a people and individuals takes the mistakes and errors of  “free will” and in mercy with caring and concern tries to work these mistakes, decisions and past errors as best He can to  mankind’s good and His glory. The fact good comes so often from our past mistakes and ignorance  individually and / or community wise is evidence how the God of Supreme Irony can at times show His  strength through using our weakness.

History should not be looked upon in terms of what survives is God’s will. What survives may be little but what God has been able to wrestle loose from our obtuse but real free will. History represents the story of a  meld of past, actions, influences and motivations. It includes for  Christians a Spiritual Force working in  history to influence it. But that Spiritual Force respects our free will and the Force is often waiting on the use of mere humans to be its instruments. History for the believer demonstrates the tug of war between  man's erring free will and God’s concern that is the very picture of what happens almost all the time.

What is written down as history does not necessarily show God. The history that is back of us was allowed  by God to happen as He respected our free will. What happened was not necessarily as God wished. It probably was not exactly what God wished. That history was allowed to happen by God because He respected our free will. Equally the future history that is going to be written in the next generations may  not be what God would have preferred to happen. But He has respected our free will.

Now many may not want their free will to be respected. They may want it to be grace, grace and more grace with no free will to be exercised. But that has not been the complete Will of God who trying to develop in us some inner resources for eternity. God wants in us a friend and a soul companion and not a mere puppet.

God gives us free will to develop us as He wishes us to grow up as we desire the young ones to grow up. Parents give greater responsibility and freedom on some issues and say, “thus it will be,” on other issues.  It depends on the ages and the time and the circumstances. In this way children grow. God wishes us to grow up as we wish our children to grow up After all, we are God’s children.

When there is grace, we know it as Paul did on the road to Damascus. But when there is free will to be used, we know that also. We know a decision is called for and decision means study and prayer and  attunement to God plus a clear conscience before we make use of our free will. God has meant that our lives contain both grace and free will. This is normal in rearing children. They are rhythms of life paralleled in nature. In life there is a grace that lays down an iron decree  that something shall be. Shall the sun be held back? Shall the earth not turn? No, it will be. And there is yet room for decision of mind that calls for thought. Shall God be followed? What action  should I take?

Such is the way wise people rear their children because this is the way children grow. Some  decisions are made for them (grace) and gradually they learn to make some decisions (free will.). They are educated in Christ to grow up in Christ as well as to have a free mind in Christ that they may advance the Christ consciousness to new levels.

Children are taught those laws laid down by God in Sunday School, but in learning those laws, we  do not wish to stop there. We want children to learn the spirit in the laws lest they be legalists. Legalists are the curse of religion. If any children are punished, we do not want to punish them with an avenging spirit, but we wish them through reason and grace ultimately to learn “obedience to the unenforceable.” Only then are they anywhere near mature enough.

Grace and free will are a mystery., We should not as Christians be surprised at either. We should  recognize there is a place for both as both come from God the Father.. They are not to be looked upon as either/or things that cause a division where none should be. Rather grace and free will  are both/and. They are both necessary in the full Christian life and both good things.  


Dr. James MacLeod may be contacted through the Neill Macaulay Foundation.